Reflection: The Importance of Place

CHICAGO, IL (September 14, 2010) – Having moved numerous times during my former newspaper publishing career, the notion of relocating from the 5101 North Francisco Avenue offices of the Evangelical Covenant Church to a new facility at 8303 West Higgins Road near O’Hare International Airport had a somewhat routine feel about it.

After all, space is space. Trading one building for another – especially swapping an older building for a more modern facility – was an attractive prospect to ponder. More than once during the many months leading up to the decision to move I was heard to say, a building is just that – a building.

About two weeks prior to the scheduled move date, I awoke early in the morning, feeling challenged in my spirit – more like chastised – about the notion of one place being no different than another. Images from scripture flooded my mind, starting with Adam and Eve in the garden. That was no ordinary place – it was special, because God walked in the cool of the evenings with the couple until sin entered the picture. The couple soon found themselves in a very different place, one fraught with hardships and challenges they had not known. I wonder how many times they longed for the serenity of that former place.

I thought of the children of Israel wandering in the wilderness and the many times that God intervened to provide for their well being. God instructed them to build altars to mark those as special places, to serve as continual reminders of his care for them. And the temple – another special place marking God’s presence among them.

Jesus sought out special places, too – Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria. The tax collectors home. The mountainside where he could feed and teach the multitudes. For one who had no home of his own, place seemed to be important to him as well.

Last Thursday, as we spent our last official day in the former offices, I found my mind wandering through the myriad of experiences I enjoyed during my 13 years in that place. I recalled the encouragement received from many colleagues as I navigated the tricky waters transitioning from the corporate world into a ministry environment – great opportunities for culture clashes with unintended consequences. I appreciated the patience and understanding – and grace – that was extended.

I recalled the difficult years with our family’s battle with cancer that did not end well – and how this great church family gathered around with love and support. I remembered numerous conversations with former president Glenn Palmberg who helped me finally grasp the idea that God’s call can be on ordinary lives like mine, and not reserved for pastors and missionaries.

Or a Jim Gustafson, a Jim Sundholm, a Jim Persson or a Gary Walter who helped me understand that evangelism and compassion, mercy and justice are not things held in tension, but rather part of whole cloth.

And the news stories that were written in that place – thousands and thousands of them, from earthquakes and mudslides to the gripping drama of Curt Peterson and Dr. Roger Thorpe trapped in a police station in Karawa being overrun by insurgents – and in danger of losing their lives in the confusion and shooting that erupted that day. Or the multitude of stories reflecting how God is at work each and every day through the many local church ministries we write about and the great conference camps and programs that are continually changing lives.

And as I sit this morning, looking out a window facing Higgins Avenue, my mind thinks about all of the interesting experiences that await us in this new place. The many news stories yet to be written about the ways in which God will continue to work through the people not only in this new facility, but through all of our local churches and conferences and affiliated ministries.

It was fitting that at the decommissioning service on August 30, it was announced that once the former office building is demolished as part of the Swedish Covenant Hospital expansion plan, a plaque will be installed to mark that site.

It will serve both as a reminder that once upon a time, God accomplished incredible things working through the people in that place, as well as a promise of great things yet to come.

(Editor’s note: the top image is the cornerstone at the 5101 North Francisco Avenue building.)

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